Donald Trump’s presidency might have been a chaotic mess, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. If Joe Biden wants to change the tone of American politics, he should avoid the temptation to immediately and reflexively reverse all of Trump’s policies.
Newly elected presidents tend to assume they must act quickly and make changes immediately. Consider how these early decisions set the tone for an administration. Had Trump began his administration with a bipartisan infrastructure deal instead of a Muslim ban, things might have worked out differently.
By my lights, there are three positive Trump-era policies that Biden will face strong pressure to upset, and should instead leave wholly intact, or tinker with enough to claim that he’s reformed them:
Let’s start with an area that has long plagued conservatives: academia. Biden has vowed a “quick end in January 2021” to the Title IX rule that was unveiled this year by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. It’s easy to paint with a broad brush and criticize Trump-era policies, but let’s consider what the Title IX rule actually does. As Politico reported prior to its implementation, the rule “will offer new rights to accused assailants, and require colleges to respond to formal complaints with courtroom-like hearings. The hearings, which will allow representatives for alleged offenders and victims to call witnesses and challenge their credibility, can occur live or virtually. Students and staff would also have a right to appeal a school’s decisions.”
Giving rights to the accused? Allowing them to call witnesses? Having the right to appeal a school’s decision? I know. Sounds horrible, right?
If anybody should understand why this Trump-era rule should stay in place, it ought to be Biden, who was himself accused of sexual assault by Tara Reade. Biden should thank his lucky stars that those allegations surfaced while he was on the campaign trail, not on a college campus. This Trump-era rule should remain in place because it is substantively more in keeping with our democratic values about the presumption of innocence and the right to face one’s accuser. Biden should also keep it because this is exactly the kind of culture-war issue that will resonate with people who are already skeptical of Democrats.
I know what you’re thinking. Elections have consequences. Biden won. Why should he bend over backwards to pander to the people he just defeated? The answer is: He should only do that if he actually wants to change the cycle we’ve been in for the last couple of decades. If Biden wants his legacy to be about transcending the negativity and division, he should (paraphrasing Barack Obama’s foreign policy strategy here) follow a simple motto: “Don’t do divisive stuff.” The good news is that Title IX regulations went through the formal rulemaking process (including “robust public participation”), which is to say that it cannot be overhauled or repealed via a simple executive order.
The next issue, however, does involve an executive order issued by Trump that addressed diversity training of government workers.
Biden has not yet said he will reverse this policy, but many observers expect that he will do so. So what does this order entail?
In the lead-up to its release, the director of Trump’s Office of Management and Budget issued a memo directing agencies to identify contracts or spending that pertained to “critical race theory,” “white privilege,” or “any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil.”
Biden shouldn’t want to spend taxpayer dollars to undermine America. He should also be cognizant that many Americans resent their current workplace culture, where they are forced to endure HR meetings and endure the thought (or word) police, not to mention a general media culture that shames them for not being politically correct enough. Resentment over this type of environment helped propel Trump’s 2016 victory. What is more, both the Title IX issue (academia) and the diversity issue speak to conservative concerns that our elite institutions are indoctrinating Americans.
Again, Biden should tread carefully. I think most Americans generally support the concept of workplace diversity. The question is did these training sessions advocate those shared values or, instead, did they seek to indoctrinate participants with a radical worldview.
At the very least, Biden should ensure this diversity training is appropriate and in accordance with American values. Again, though, the question is whether Biden wants to do what any other Democratic president would do in 2021 (which is to reverse Trump’s order)—or if, instead, he wants to reverse our polarized and dysfunctional politics.
Lastly, Biden should keep the U.S. embassy in Israel in Jerusalem. The good news is, he has pledged to do just that, although, in the past he has also stated that “the move shouldn’t have happened in the context as it did...”
Past presidents (including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) voiced support for moving the embassy to Jerusalem, even as they signed waivers keeping it in Tel Aviv. With Trump, a president finally followed through on this promise, and—despite what some experts warned—it did not destroy the Middle East peace process (indeed, the Arab world is coming to peace terms with Israel). Still, there will be pressure to try and reverse the move. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, for example, is planning to demand the return of the embassy to Tel Aviv. Biden should resist such pressure.
During his presidency, Trump constantly sought to reverse Obama-era policies, often for little reason other than that they were supported by his predecessor. This was stupid and counterproductive. Countless political capital was wasted trying to repeal the now-popular Obamacare. Trump also withdrew America from Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that would have isolated China—something that Trump should, presumably, want to do. These are just two examples. I could go on.
Rather than following this pattern and reflexively trying to reverse every Trump-era policy, Biden should instead judge them by their merits. I realize I’m asking him to do something that few modern politicians would do. This is, to be sure, countercultural. But if he truly wants to end the cycle of division, he has to start somewhere.